Dear President Bush,
I was not kind to you during your presidency, and I’m sorry.
When 9/11 first happened, I looked to you for strength, for a sense of guidance. And you stood on top of a pile of rubble under which humanity was buried and you pledged to all of us that you would lead us past this moment.
I remember how people castigated you for not running out of the elementary school room on 9/11, shouting that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Okay. I’m hyperbolizing about you running and shouting. But I still recall reading articles/watching journalists faulting you for your inactivity in the classroom while small children read to you.
You placed the needs of the children ahead of your own.
At the time, I loved you. I praised you to my students, criticizing the expectation that you should have leapt from your seat and immediately fell to work.
I supported you when we invaded Afghanistan. I would have enlisted if not for my six month, two-day old son. The world I had dreamt for my son was gone and I wanted to resurrect it, give it back to him. But I had to be a mother first and not an emotionally driven angry woman bent on revenge.
But the war in Iraq broke me. At the time and even now, I am still conflicted about our military operation in that country. I knew that Sadaam Hussein was a horrific tyrant, a menace to society, a man who routinely flaunted his crimes against humanity. However, the weapons of mass destruction?
You walked out of history. President Obama took your place in the Oval Office and you quietly stepped out of my world and into the residence of silence. I saw you at inaugurations. Occasionally saw you on 9/11 documentaries.
I will confess to saying angry things about you. I did not support the War in Iraq. I support the soldiers, want to do what I can to help the men and women who served. I learned from my Big Daddy. I will always support the troops even if I disagree with the Administration who have made the choice to send the service men and women overseas.
This morning, Mr. President, I watched your interview with Willie Geist on NBC’s Today show (Sunday morning edition).
Sir, I wept. I wept as I heard your narrative about being restless in your presidential retirement and how you started painting. I remember that you talked about how your second painting was a watermelon.
You chose military men and women who have suffered in the wars as your subjects. I don’t know that your artwork will ever be considered great classics. But I know the courage it takes to publicly display artwork that isn’t quite as amazing as the most amazing artist.
I know the vulnerability that must exist as you watched other people scrutinize your work and give you their final thoughts.
I loved how you stood in front of one of your subjects, a man whom you deliberately painted in such a way that he is not attractive. But in the way you highlighted the man’s weariness, anger, frustration at his PTSD, you gave him such beauty and humanity.
Maybe, you gave his Mr. Hyde a veneer of beauty that could have saved him.
I know what it is to look in the mirror and see the ugly duckling. I know what it is to have people present me pictures and tell me that I’m beautiful and I see only the ugliest of ducklings.
But your honest representation made the ugly duckling so beautiful. And not because the swan was gracefully arching across the water. But because the ugly duckling was beautiful in spite of its ugliness, was even more beautiful because through the ugliness were shattered lines of fragile beauty.
Today, sir, I witnessed classiness. You were invited to discuss Donald Trump, to offer “advice” under the guise of criticism. Instead, you diplomatically skirted the question. You enabled Trump to maintain his dignity and respect, even though you did give veiled suggestions of improvements or changes he could make.
Yes, technically, you still criticized Trump. However, your words were devoid of animosity, malice, or ill-intent.
I’m sorry President Bush for seeing only a facade of who you were and only wanting to focus on policies and decisions you made that you thought was in the best interest of the people, maybe even the world, that caused great pain.
I’m sorry President Bush for forgetting to look at things from other perspectives, for not looking at your perspective.
I’m so thankful, though, that I was able to hush my family and watch the news in peace so that I could have my perspectives challenged…and then changed.
Thank you, President Bush, for your service. Thank you for being a man of strength on September 11th. And thank you for having the courage to pick up a paintbrush, paint a watermelon, and then paint men and women who were terribly damaged by war and then made lovely by your compassion.